The Call of Duty franchise was central in Sony's response to the Brazilian government's request for information on the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard deal. Sony shared a detailed explanation of why the series is irreplaceable in its genre and would be able to influence console purchases if it became exclusive.
Activision's Call of Duty is an essential game: a "blockbuster," a game AAA type that has no rival. According to a 2019 study: “The importance of Call of Duty to entertainment in general is indescribable. The brand was the only video game IP to enter the top 10 of all entertainment brands among fanatics, joining powerhouses like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings.” Call of Duty is so popular that it influences users' choice of console and their network of loyal users is so ingrained that even if a competitor had the budget to develop a similar product, it would not be able to rival.
Activision employs vast resources to develop Call of Duty. Each annual Call of Duty release takes approximately 3-5 years to be developed. As Activision releases one Call of Duty game per year,
this equates to an annual investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Annual AAA releases are developed by four rotating studios (Activision, Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Raven Software), each supported by several satellite studios. Other studios work on “battle royale” Warzone and Call of Duty: Mobile. Approximately 1,200 people work in the development of each version, and another 1,500 are involved in the publication and distribution. Thus, Call of Duty alone has more developers than most game companies employ across their development portfolio, even AAA studios. No other developer can assign the same level of resources and expertise in game development. Even if they could, Call of Duty is heavily entrenched so that no rival – no matter how relevant – can achieve it. Call of Duty was the biggest game sale for almost every year in the last decade and, for its genre, it is overwhelmingly the best-selling game. It is synonymous with first person shooter games and essentially defines that category.
Unsurprisingly, out of all the parties contacted by the Brazilian government, Sony is the most critical regarding the acquisition. When Microsoft announced its intention to purchase Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion, the company behind PlayStation quickly said it expected previous contractual agreements to be respected, hinting mainly at the marketing deals it had struck for upcoming Call of Duty titles. Those should be active for another three years, but Microsoft's Head of Gaming Phil Spencer has since suggested the franchise will stay on PlayStation even afterward.
This year will see the release of Modern Warfare 2, due to launch on October 28th. Activision also reiterated yesterday that some premium paid content will be released in 2023, too, though it is unclear whether that's going to be a new game or an expansion.